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Friday’s EuroFile: Cuesta takes Volta TT; Basso, Savoldelli confident, Cunego philosophical

Iñigo Cuesta gave Saunier Duval its second consecutive stage victory in Friday’s 17km climbing time trial high in Andorra while Discovery Channel’s Yaroslav Popovych solidified his hold on the leader’s jersey. Cuesta won in 37 minutes, 18 seconds, some 26 seconds faster than teammate Leonardo Piepoli, Thursday’s winner. Popovych, making his first race appearance since March because of visa problems, came through fifth and holds a 20-second lead on Piepoli and 59 seconds on David Moncoutie (Cofidis). "I am as surprised as anybody, I never expected this," the former amateur world champion

By Andrew Hood

Iñigo Cuesta gave Saunier Duval its second consecutive stage victory in Friday’s 17km climbing time trial high in Andorra while Discovery Channel’s Yaroslav Popovych solidified his hold on the leader’s jersey.

Cuesta won in 37 minutes, 18 seconds, some 26 seconds faster than teammate Leonardo Piepoli, Thursday’s winner.

Popovych, making his first race appearance since March because of visa problems, came through fifth and holds a 20-second lead on Piepoli and 59 seconds on David Moncoutie (Cofidis).

“I am as surprised as anybody, I never expected this,” the former amateur world champion told Reuters.

The opening 10km of the 17km climbed gradually before the steep final push to the Arcalis summit. Cuesta said he went all out with the idea of giving strong splits to Piepoli.

“I went all out from the gun without calculating on my strength. I wanted to go hard as well so that Piepoli could have good time references for his ascent,” Cuesta said. “But then I realized that I could win the stage myself.”

Michael Rogers (Quick Step) came through sixth at 52 seconds slower while Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) was seventh at 54 seconds off the winning pace. Floyd Landis (Phonak) tied 1997 Tour champion Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) at 2:56 slower.

Saunier Duval hadn’t won a race all season until Piepoli scored a win Thursday ahead of Popovych. Now the Spanish team has two wins and a chance at the overall title if Popovych stumbles.

“We weren’t panicking, but it’s true the pressure was building for the team to win a stage. Last year the wins came easier, but that’s the way racing is. Sometimes you think you deserve to win, but you don’t,” said Saunier Duval’s team manager Patxi Fernandez. “We’ve broken the spell and it feels good to win.”

The Volta continues Saturday with a 198.7km stage from Llivia to Palleja.

Volta a Cataluyna, stage five, Sornas to Ordino, Andorra, 17km ITT
1. Inigo Cuesta (Sp), Saunier Duval, 37:18
2. Leonardo Piepoli (I), Saunier Duval, at 0:26
3. David Moncoutie (F), Cofidis, at 0:45
4. Ezequiel Mosquera (Sp), Kaiku, at 0:47
5. Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr), Discovery Channel, at 0:51

Overall standings after five stages
1. Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr), Discovery Channel 15:46:40
2. Leonardo Piepoli (I), Saunier Duval, at 0:20
3. David Moncoutie (F), Cofidis, at 0:59
4. Michael Rogers (Aus), Quick Step, at 1:18
5. Aitor Osa (Sp), Illes Balears, at 1:23

Basso, Savoldelli confident
Ivan Basso (CSC) took the Giro d’Italia by the horns on the Passo Duran in Thursday’s dramatic climbing stage to Zoldo Alto.

Sensing that arch-rival Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Caffita) was struggling, Basso unleashed a series of accelerations that left most of the Giro peloton reconsidering their overall aspirations.

“I felt really strong (Thursday). I wasn’t giving much thought as to who was positioned where, but just made sure to keep as fast a pace as possible as we hit the Passo Duran climb. This turned out to be the right strategy, and I could see that not many were able to keep up with me,” said Basso, who slipped on the maglia rosa for the first time of his career.

“I had great legs today, so I launched several attacks in order to drop my competitors. Today I showed, that I’m a rider capable of pulling off a serious attack under the right circumstances,” Basso said after the stage.

Basso’s impressive strength in the mountains silenced many critics who said he was unable to put down such explosive attacks. With the leader’s jersey, all eyes will be on him as the Giro faces two more difficult climbing stages Saturday and Sunday.

“It’s a dream come true for me and my team with this pink leader’s jersey, but I choose to be very humble about the situation. There are still a lot of tough stages left, and the race is far from over,” Basso said. “Today many riders had an actual off-day, but that can happen to everyone in a big stage race – including myself. Now we have achieved an important goal, but of course I’ll attack again, if I feel as strong as I did today.”

Team CSC manager Bjarne Riis expressed his satisfaction at his pupil’s impressive display. Somewhat surprisingly, the maglia rosa is the first leader’s jersey for a Team CSC rider in one of cycling’s big three grand tours.

‘It was a pleasure to watch Basso today. He did everything right, was very strong and had the situation well under control. There was no doubt who was the strongest out there today, and it’s great to capture the pink jersey in a tough mountain stage,” Riis said on the team’s web page. “The whole team has worked hard focusing on this goal. Now we’ll take one day at a time, ’cause we know exactly what’s ahead of us, and there are still many difficulties to overcome before reaching Milan.” Cunego philosophical after disappointment
The European media calls them “cracks,” young, over-achieving stars who make their presence felt long before it’s expected.

In Thursday’s climbing stage to Zoldo Alto, Italy’s top crack cracked as Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Caffita) lost more than six minutes and just about any chance of overall victory.

“I had a bad day and I could feel it right from the start of the stage,” Cunego told reporters. “When I saw that I couldn’t ride as well as I’d hoped I decided to go at my own pace.”

Cunego shot to fame last year after roaring to overall victory, but admitted the growing pressure had gotten to him.

“I was under lots of pressure after winning last year and that played a part in what happened today,” Cunego said. “Now a big weight is off my shoulders and I’m more relaxed. I just hope I can do well later in the race.”

Simoni promises more attacks
Gilberto Simoni (Lampre-Caffita) opened the hostilities on Passo Duran and rode with Ivan Basso up until four kilometers to go when he said leg cramps got to him in the final run to the finish line.

“I’d been pushing a big gear on the last climb and had (leg) cramps in the last four kilometres. Basso noticed, attacked and went clear with Savoldelli,” said Simoni, now fourth overall.

The two-time Giro champion is now 2:27 back, a gap that will be hard to overcome unless Basso tumbles.

”It’s a pity but I’m not going to give up,” Simoni said. “I’m either going to win the Giro or I’m going to blow the race apart trying.”

Savoldelli ‘bloody happy’ with win
Paolo Savoldelli hadn’t won a stage since 2001 (not counting his overall 2002 Giro victory which he took without a stage), so it’s no surprise the Discovery Channel captain was pleased with his Giro win. “He’s happy, bloody happy,” Discovery Channel assistant sports manager Sean Yates said of Savoldelli. “He’s happy because his form is finally back after two years. He’s got his morale back and today was just icing on the cake, at least for the moment.”

Savoldelli moved into second overall, just 18 seconds off the pace. Team officials said Savoldelli’s win means a lot to the squad that gains most of its attention with Lance Armstrong.

“The win today is great for our team,” said sport director Johan Bruyneel. “Once again, this shows how this team is more than only about Lance. We’ve shown it in the past but many people just don’t see that. For us as a team, for us as directors, its very important.”

Bruyneel said Savoldelli’s victory will only bolster the “Falcon’s” growing confidence.

“He’s a strong candidate for the podium, although we all know one bad day is enough to lose everything. It’s clear Basso is a big favorite and Cunego lost all his options today,” Bruyneel told Dan Osipow. “I’m happy for him after two years of a lot of problems and injuries which made him lose his confidence. Now, he’s back on the highest level and I think he proved, especially to himself, that he’s one of the best bike riders. That is just what he needed and I think from now on, we will see a Savoldelli that we are used to seeing. I can see he needed some confidence and there is only one real way to gain that back, and that’s getting results.” Popo on the go-go in Cataluyna
Yaroslav Popovych slipped into the overall leader’s jersey in the Volta a Cataluyna after finishing second to stage winner Leonardo Piepoli, but the Ukraine looked to be the strongest among a leading trio of riders who dominated the long stage to the Pal ski area. “To me, he was the strongest rider on the final climb, that’s for sure,” said team assistant sports manager Dirk Demol. “He attacked with Piepoli and Osa and was pulling all the time to take as much time as possible and gain the race lead. After the stage, he was a bit disappointed he didn’t get the stage win but immediately after he realized he had the jersey.”

Friday’s fifth stage is a 17km climbing time trial to Arcalis, something Demol says Popovych is extremely motivated to perform well.

“He really wants to go for it,” Demol continued. “For a time trial, you have no options, you have to go all out. He’s confident and knows he has a great chance, especially after what he learned today. He has a good feeling about it.”